Breaking the Helicopter Habit

So my kids are now walking to school all by themselves. It’s a 20-minute trip that requires crossing one semi-busy street at a four-way stop. I used to drive them every day, at first because they were so young; later because it was a convenient stop on my way to work; most recently because that’s just what we’ve always done. But I’ve been trying to give them more freedom and responsibility (see The Independence Project), and this seemed like a natural step. They’re nine and seven; they can do this.

Those of us who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s walked to school every day, of course. My older brother once got turned around on his way home from kindergarten and was wandering aimlessly around a park when a woman spotted him from her window and went over to ask if he was lost. He told her his phone number, she called Mom, and Mom went and picked him up. But Mom didn’t drive him from then on; she just made sure he knew which landmarks to follow to get home.


It’s easy to fall into the helicopter parenting habit. I used to wonder how it was legal to send a kid down the street alone when it wasn’t legal to leave him unsupervised once he got wherever he was going. But our job as parents is to prepare our kids to go out in the world without us — and they’ll never know how if we don’t let them practise.

Not that I’m completely letting go. I still pick them up from school every day, mainly because I like to check if they have all their stuff (see Bringing Order to Chaos), but also because I enjoy chatting with the other moms while waiting for the bell. I know I’ll have to let them get home on their own someday (Justin is already clamoring to be allowed to do it), but one thing at a time.

We’ve all got a lot to learn here.